Saturday, April 14, 2012

In Spite of My Misgivings All You Ever Give is Grace

Every now and then a song comes along that connects with you on all the right levels. Recently that song has been "Grace" by Jonathan Kingham. Lori and I were first introduced to his music at one of the summer concerts sponsored by the city of Ashland. Since then we have enjoyed listening to him and earlier in the year purchased another of his albums, which contained this song.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Were Adam and Eve Cavemen?

That is what is being suggested by two apologists who are trying to reconcile the human fossil record with the creation stories in Genesis. Interestingly, they seem to focus on Genesis 4 rather then Genesis 1-4. Here is a bit of what the article has to say on the Christian Post.

"Variation among post-Babel humans has led to a great debate among evolutionists, who wonder where they fit on the roadway to being 'truly human.' But that way of thinking misses the fundamental truth. When God created humans, He didn't define our humanness in terms of physical characteristics. We aren't human because we have two arms or legs or skulls of a certain shape or size. Our Creator, who is spirit, made us in His spiritual image," the authors write in the article.
"Genesis reveals aspects of what this implies," they continue. "Our early ancestors made musical instruments and tools, farmed, built cities, and otherwise represented God as stewards of His creation (Genesis 4). With that as our standard, we can cut through the confusion and bias. All those we call 'cavemen' (probably a misnomer) show the same characteristics as the first humans in the Bible."
These first humans were "all descended from Adam through Noah's family," the authors conclude.

Reading this article leads me to the suggestion to me that these apologists are neither scientists nor biblical scholars. The suggestion that humans are created in God's "spiritual image" misses the point about what it means to be made in the image of God. And I am not sure that simply finding connections between city building and the playing of music really provides the "missing link." I think they are playing the wrong tune here.

For a better examination of how to understand the creation stories in Genesis see my review of Peter Enns' book The Evolution of Adam.

Ben Witherington on Women in Ministry

Women and ministry is still a hot topic in some circles. Some do not think women can fully participate in all aspects of ordained ministry. Others think women have the same abilities and giftings as men and should be allowed to fully participate in all aspects of ministry.

One New Testament scholar who falls decidedly on the side of allowing women to minister is Ben Witherington III. His Ph.D. thesis at Durham University is still one of the best treatments on the topic. In the two clips below Witherington looks at the topic from two directions. In the first clip he looks as the role of women in the first century. In the second clip he examines the modern debate over women in ministry with a focus on 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Fishy Tale About a Supposed Early Christian Tomb

You may or may not have heard about the so-called Jesus tomb. This is a tomb that was discovered in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem where a housing project was being constructed. In 2007 the Discovery Channel produced a show in which the "archaeologists" claimed that it was the family tomb of Jesus and that one of the ossuaires may have contained the bones of Jesus. You can read more about that tomb on the Discovery Channel website.

The reaction from the scholarly world was one of extreme skepticism. Virtually no one not connected to the project thought this was the family tomb of Jesus. Their opinions were not based on some desire to preserve the authenticity of the gospel accounts of Jesus resurrection. Rather, their response was based on the shoddy methods used and the flimsy conclusions reached by the producers of the Jesus Tomb show.

While the people who produced this show should have simply cashed in their winnings and went away, they did not. They are back and this time with claims that they have discovered another tomb nearby which contains the remains of early followers of Jesus. And this too will be another episode of pseudo history and archaeology aired tonight on the Discovery Channel. The central feature of this episode will be another ossuary with what the show's producers are claiming is a fish, a symbol of Christian iconography, or Jonah's whale. If it is a fish it is the oddest looking fish.

I have avoided any discussion of this topic until now. I did not think that it was worth giving these claims any attention, and a number of my colleagues have done a fine job pointing out the flaws in the claim. But the show will run tonight and I thought it might be good to alert interested readers to the fact that there are many who do not think the conclusions that will be presented in the show can be sustained.

Below is a short video clip that appeared on ABC News on Tuesday. In the clip you will see my New Testament colleague and fellow blogger Mark Goodacre. Mark teaches at Duke University and was asked to respond to the claims being made by the show. He was involved with helping to dispel the producers claims about the so-called Jesus tomb, and has been adding his voice again to the debate. I think you will find that Mark has a much more responsible approach.

Update: Since I posted this Mark Goodacre has posted a Summary of the "Jesus Discovery" and the Top Ten  Problems with it. Not to be outdone is a response by James Tabor to Mark's post at the Tabor Blog.

Also, below the ABC News clip is one of Bob Cargill on CNN this morning. Bob also presents the reasons we are all skeptical.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rethinking Heaven and Resurrection

This being the Easter season there is a quite a bit out there on the topic of death and afterlife. I thought I would post a few links today that you may find of interest.

Time Magazine this week has an article on how scholars and theologians are rethinking the Christian understanding of life after death. Rather than saying that when we die we go to heaven, they are beginning to realize that the promise of the New Testament is not heaven, but resurrection. Here is a link to the article. Unfortunately it is behind a pay wall. But it is well written and perhaps you could find a copy at your local dentist or in your neighbors recycle bin.

Over at Slate Larry Hurtado has a short article on How the Early Christians Understood Jesus' Resurrection.

Ken Schenk has been doing a series on the resurrection at his blog Quadrilateral Thoughts: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.

Finally, here is a video posted earlier this week by Allen Bevere. It is a lecture by Tom Wright Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? In the lecture Wright covers various views on life after death in the ancient world and provides an apology for the resurrection.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

You Can Never Go Home

This past weekend I went home for Easter to visit my family. My mother lives less than a mile from the Bible College my wife and I graduated from 23 years ago. On Saturday I decided to stroll through the deserted campus, the students were all home for the Easter break. 

As I walked through the campus I found myself in a reminiscing sort of mood. I looked towards my old dorm and mentally marked the windows of the three different rooms that had been my home for three years.  I inspected the Gazebo that our senior class had donated. And I visited the step where I sat with a pretty girl who agreed that we should try dating for a while. She eventually would become my wife.

As I wandered around I walked up to the chapel and found the doors unlocked. As I walked in and took a seat a steady stream of memories began to come back to me. The room was much the same as it always had been. The chairs were still the same from my days as a student and I wondered if the chair I was sitting on was one that remembered me from before.

This was the building I had spent at least four days a week from 11:00 to 12:00 worshipping God and listening to people expound the Bible. As well as regular chapel, every year we set aside time for prayer: a weekend of prayer in September, a week of prayer in January, and another weekend in March. In addition to the seasons of prayer there was the missionary convention and many other special meetings, too many for me to recall. It struck me that I had spent as much if not more time in that chapel than I had the classroom. This was the hottest part of the crucible that was melting and reforming us for service to God.

I was reminded that this was also the chapel in which my wife (then girlfriend) and I both were commissioned into ministry and received our diplomas. We would be married a year later. In the mean time we looked forward with expectation to our future together and with the Lord. We were full of enthusiasm and knowledge. We knew so much more then than we know now. We had the answers that the world needed. And we were ready to meet that world and bring Jesus to it.

I remembered that it was here too that I preached the ordination service for my father. It was also here, just a few short years later, that we gathered together with friends and family to beg God to spare my father and heal him of cancer.

As I sat there I mumbled these memories out loud to God. Not as a prayer, but as a sort of walk down memory lane with God. It had been at least 14 years since I had been in that chapel, and though it looked much the same, I knew that I was not the same. Life had not taken us in the directions we had planned. We had lived in different states and different countries and ended up in different places, both geographically and spiritually, that we never anticipated. We had experienced great joy and love together. And we had experienced disappointment, disillusionment and frustration.

As I stood there I couldn’t help but think “I wish I knew now what I knew then.” We knew so much back then. We had so much more knowledge, confidence, security. But life and God had brought us to the point that we now know even less, we are much less confident. We are much less sure of ourselves and God.

They say you can never go home again. It’s not that home is different; it is you that is different. I suppose the same is true when you leave your spiritual/theological home, whether it is a school, a church or someplace else. When you return to that home you have many pleasant memories, but you also realize that you have changed so much and that it would be impossible to go back. Like the chairs in that chapel, you recognize that your home, the place where you were raised, is not all that different. But you are. Experience and time has distanced you from that part of your life, from that time. And no matter how much you wish you knew now what you knew then, you know it’s impossible to go back. It’s no longer home.

As I left the chapel I raised a brief prayer to God. I said; “Lord, I don’t know where we are going and how we will get there, but I hope that you will be there with us."

We know so much less now than we did. I think that is probably a good thing. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Cursing Your Enemies the Bible Way: More on how not to use the Bible.

We all have people in life that we don't like, don't get along with or simply wish would go away. They are people with whom we may disagree or find that they get under our skin. And we are all probably guilty of sending little wish prayers up that sound something like: "Lord, I would be most grateful if you would ring so and so's neck." Or we might wish that the Lord "would move them on" to another church, job, town, etc. And while we may feel and even pray this way sometimes, we also know that Jesus calls on us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44). 

But what do we with all of those imprecatory Psalms? You know, the ones where the Psalmist asks God to come down and stomp out the Psalmist's enemies by making their lives hell on earth. I am thinking here of Psalm 109

 6 Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy;    let an accuser stand at his right hand. 7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty,    and may his prayers condemn him. 8 May his days be few;    may another take his place of leadership. 9 May his children be fatherless    and his wife a widow. 10 May his children be wandering beggars;    may they be driven from their ruined homes. 11 May a creditor seize all he has;    may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. 12 May no one extend kindness to him    or take pity on his fatherless children. 13 May his descendants be cut off,    their names blotted out from the next generation. 14 May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD;    may the sin of his mother never be blotted out. 15 May their sins always remain before the LORD,    that he may blot out their name from the earth.

Pretty harsh stuff from the Bible. You wonder if Jesus had ever read this Psalm when he was giving the Sermon on the Mount. But of course he did. Jesus acknowledges in Matt 5:43-46 that the prevailing wisdom of the day was to love your neighbor but hate your enemy. Jesus calls us instead to love our enemies. So while Psalm 109 may provide us some insights to the way the ancients felt and even expressed themselves to God, it is not necessarily a prayer we should pray. Psalm 109 can help us realize that not everyone in the Bible had feelings of love for everyone, but asking God to kill the children of your enemy does not reflect the cruciform way that we should be viewing all of life. 

Which leads me to a recent news article. According to USA Today, there are people who are "praying" Psalm 109 against their enemies. A former Navy Chaplin was sued by an atheist organization who discovered that the former Chaplin was saying the prayer hoping that God would bring harm to the atheist and his organization. The judge in the case, however, ruled that it is ok to recite an imprecatory Psalm, as long as no one actually gets hurt. 

I can't comment on the judge's ruling, but I do wonder about people who are asking God to curse their enemies rather than bless them or, if this Chaplin really believes what he preaches, that God would change this man's heart. The article doesn't say, but I wonder how the Chaplin reconciles this with the words of Jesus? 

Another example of this type of behavior was also exhibited by the Speaker of the House of Representatives in Kansas. Apparently he was emailing Psalm 109 to his colleagues and commenting that "At last — I can honestly voice a biblical prayer for our president!" Whether or not he agrees with the president's politics, I don't think this exhibits the kind of charity that we are supposed to show to others. Does he really wish that Mrs. Obama would be widowed and her daughters fatherless? Again, is this what it means to exhibit love to others, even those we consider to be our enemies? 

I admit, Imprecatory Psalms are a tricky thing for us. They are Psalms that call down curses upon an enemy, full stop. But that does not mean that we have to or should use them that way. There is a lot of stuff in the Bible that we don't or shouldn't apply (Anyone for stoning rebellious children?). These Psalms remind us that the presence of evil in the world is very real and that it causes untold suffering on many. And they remind us that God is not pleased with such wickedness. But the words of Jesus are the other side of the coin for Christians. We recognize the evil that is in the world and may even experience it. But we also know that we are called to do something even harder than asking God for revenge. We are to love our enemies, and pray for them. Somehow I am not convinced that is what these other gentlemen are doing.